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Forcing The Gates

There can be no approbation strong enough for the demonic act of the cartoons caricaturing our beloved Prophet (Peace Be upon Him (PBUH)). The muslim reaction is only a reflection of the deep-rooted suspicions that other religions have ganged up in a well-thought out conspiracy, the disrespect for our Prophet (PBUH) meant as a deliberate provocation. An idiot of an Italian Minister wore the despicable cartoon on a T-Shirt, very correctly (and swiftly) the Italian PM and his cabinet sacked him. Before enraged protestors could overwhelm and burn the Italian Consulate in Ben Ghazi, Libyan internal security forces killed eleven (including some foreigners among the Libyans).

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Nationalizing “Bundoo Khan”

World War 2 sustained communism far beyond the 50 years it should have gone on its own momentum, the impetus of that war acting as a “manufacturing force-multiplier” for the socialist economy. As it is Communist China chose economic emancipation in the mid 70s under Deng Tsao Peng, President Jiang Zenin nailing the coffin of its socialist ideology last October by allowing free enterprise entrepreneurs officially into the Communist Party. By the late 60s it had been clear that the romantic notions of socialism that the leaders of independent third world States newly created in the 50s was seriously flawed. Saddled by an inefficient and indolent public sector which was into railways, telecommunications, water projects, electricity, sewerage, etc but flanked by socialist ideologues like JA Rahim and Dr Mubashar Hussain, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto plunged Pakistan into three decades (and still counting) of economic wilderness by his nationalization-binge of the early 70s.

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The Effect of Nepotism

Corruption is the main side-effect of nepotism. The moment we negate merit as the only touchstone for selection, the seeds of corruption are well and truly sown. In developed countries democracy ensures selection, appointment and/or advancement on the basis of merit. Unfortunately the worst form of nepotism was practiced by our so-called “democrats” when in power. Democracy is meant to ensure that merit alone is the arbiter of success but our “democracy” was not accountable and when a system is not accountable it is to be expected that patronage will be rampant on a wide-scale. Because of this lack of accountability in Third World countries the situation is perverse, democracies tend to reward favourites, that in turn makes the system tailor-made for corruption. When any authoritarian rule substitutes democracy, the major reason usually given is to stamp out the nepotism and corruption. In the initial euphoria of correcting wrongs, an authoritarian system does fall back on merit. Only when things settle in place the client-patron relationship takes over and things go back to being far worse than in any democracy.

How have the institutions of this country been corrupted? Mainly by installing favourites without merit, in decision-making positions. Those unworthy of selection then proceed to run riot in the institutions at all levels, bending the rules to accommodate their favourites in turn, in time the whole institution becomes rotten to the core. Lacking ability or management capacity, those without merit have as their primary aim and function the lining of their own pockets and/or living high at the expense of the institutions. Obviously this cannot be done without ensuring the appointment of hand-picked cronies in key decision-making slots. A cycle of nepotism is created which deepens the corruption psyche. Even if the person appointed without merit is not corrupt, which happens from time to time, the lack of efficiency, knowledge, experience, managerial capacity, etc encourages others down the line to indulge in corruption, secure in the knowledge that ignorance and incompetence of their superiors will prevent any discovery, a built-in inferiority complex preventing those in power from exercising their authority as it should be used.

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Welfare Society

The fundamental principles of Islam requires that the State looks after the welfare of its citizens, all of whom are equal before the law, there being supposedly no elite. Those fortunate are forbidden from ostentatious display of wealth. They are admonished to bend over backwards to remain identified with those less fortunate and to share their good fortune. All that is theory, in practice there is no system of welfare in Pakistan, mostly it is lip-service in the public sector, in the private sector there is evidence of it but it is sporadic. As much as democracy as practiced in Pakistan was a sham, so are welfare schemes. State-sponsored welfare schemes were present in the communist system but these fell prey to inefficiency and corruption. Our meagre forays in this field have faced the same misfortune.

Welfare Schemes have to cater for (1) those who have no means of earning a living and (2) the senior citizens of the State. The minimum common agenda (MCA) should be to provide them with the bare necessities of shelter, medical cover and enough money for food, payment of utility bills, etc. For those employed by the State there is a system of sorts. The Defence Services are closest to an optimum caring for those retired, the civil bureaucracy has a system in place but it is not adequate enough. For the private sector, schemes were instituted during late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s regime but they have been overtaken by rampant corruption and gross inefficiency, the Employees Social Security Institution (ESSI), managed separately by the Federal and respective Provincial Governments, and the Employees Old Age Benefit Institution (EOBI) managed by the Federal Government.

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Privatise, but Carefully!

Pakistan’s golden economic years were the 60s. While there were aberrations, e.g the disproportionate distribution of wealth among only a handful, they were nowhere as serious as those confronting the nation today. A mixed economy with benevolent central direction was a model for the other emerging economies of Asia. Today we will be lucky if we can regain any semblance of the momentum lost to us over the past three decades. By the early 70s, despite the fact that it had become quite apparent that the concept of socialist economy was a dismal failure and many of those countries that had followed the romantic notion of socialism under the leadership of charismatic leaders were already re-thinking their economic strategy, we started to head pell-mell in that direction. The first major breakaway from the pure socialist model was the Peoples’ Republic of China, which under Deng Tsao Peng started to gradually brake and reverse the socialist Soviet model and by the early 1980s was well on the road to a mixed economy. In retrospect it seems they followed Chinese cousin Lee Kwan Yew’s Singapore model of the late 60s/early 70s on a far bigger scale. The far smaller Island-State provided the blueprint for opening the economy to free enterprise with public utilities under State control, at places in partnership with the private sector. The leaders of both Singapore and China were careful to keep the opening up of the economy ahead of the loosening of controls over freedom lest the public’s aspirations overcome achievement. In the early 80s Thatcherism was born when Margaret Thatcher established her policies on the dual Chinese experience (Singapore and China), to quote “when you copy from one person it is called plagiarism, when you copy from many it is called “research”.

The father’s penchant for sweeping nationalism has only been transcended by the daughter’s for complete privatisation, an orgy of extremes and excess, both at the wrong time. Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at least had his own vision, neither Ms Benazir’s vision or her objectives seem to be her own. Bhutto went about dismantling Ayub’s economic legacy with wholesale vengeance but this paled in comparison to the bureaucratic excess during Zia’s Martial Law that followed. Given a veritable treasure package to handle, bereft of political control and with the military men-in-charge having no sense of economics, bureaucracy went berserk in personifying the worst of Soviet-model control in industry, ushering in inefficiency, pilferage, corruption, etc in so rabid a manner that despite free-wheeling movement towards free enterprise over the past 5-6 years we cannot stop our economic slide downwards. One saving grace of the Soviet model was that those corrupt or profligate with the public money or property faced firing squads, has any of our corrupt managers in the 1977-1985 period faced any punishment?

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Gunfight at the OK Corral

The Birth Anniversary of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the founder-Chairman of PPP, was celebrated with some fervour by his heirs and their supporters, principally in Larkana and at his gravesite nearby in Garhi Khuda Baksh. If he had been alive, the late lamented leader would probably have wished that the fireworks display would have been of the non-lethal kind and better targeted in the air than at each other between his surviving siblings. At least three innocent people lost their lives in the firefight between the police and Murtaza supporters including a policeman on duty who died a lingering death due to a bullet-inflicted stomach wound. What had been taken universally as a stage-managed farce in continuation of the drama (the incarceration of Mir Murtaza Bhutto) played out to placate the doubts of those who were turned off at the Prodigal Son’s terrorist connections (Al-Zulfikar, RAW, etc) has suddenly turned deathly serious. The entire exercise may or may not have been a “Noora Kushti” meant to distance the PPP hierarchy from the terrorist overtones acquired by extremists among the Party elements over the Martial Law years, the initiation of a cycle of bloodletting has created new dynamics, unleashing demons lower down the pecking order that may run totally out of control. Others may revel in the never ending misadventures of the Bhutto family as regards familial peace and harmony but this is a continuing tragedy that must come to an end. For the sake of the Bhutto family and the Pakistan Peoples Party, sane counsel must prevail to terminate this insanity. While the functioning of the government may not have come to a standstill, it has certainly been severely affected to the detriment of the people of Pakistan. Despite her personal travails (and possible anguish), Ms Benazir has managed an extremely brave front, essentially remaining a class act.

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